By Christopher Thompson
Patient satisfaction scores have become a critical success metric for healthcare systems across the U.S., and healthcare systems have created teams dedicated to improving patient satisfaction through the continuum of care. This trend originated in part to create transparency in healthcare delivery and has evolved the role of the patient to that of an informed healthcare consumer.
As a result, healthcare facilities are prioritizing strategies that create a better experience for patients and pursuing technologies like real-time location to enhance the patient experience. In addition to providing customized experiences, these systems also enable healthcare leaders to improve operational efficiencies – allowing even more resources to be directed to patient care.
Real-time locating systems were originally used as a mechanism for clinical engineering to quickly find tagged assets. As the technology has evolved, solutions have expanded into nearly every facet of healthcare operations, such as environmental monitoring, clinical workflow management, real-time situational awareness, automated nurse call , and advanced analytics to improve decision making.
Choosing the Right Solution
As with any new technology, there is a tendency to jump to features and benefits, but it is essential for any healthcare leader considering RTLS to first identify specific goals for their application. From here, technology providers can help map the business needs of the facility to specific solutions. This is an important process given the wide array of technologies leveraged by today’s RTLS solutions, including Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE), Wi-Fi, and UHF. Each technology has advantages and disadvantages that are largely dependent on how it will be used.
Locating technologies should be evaluated based on the size of the deployment, the accuracy needed, and the frequency of updates. First, the technology must support the physical size and layout of the building(s) in scope and must be scalable to accommodate future expansion. Second, and arguably the most important consideration, is the accuracy and frequency of updates that are needed to support the desired use case. For example, radio frequency-only based (RF-only) technologies penetrate through walls and are most appropriate for identifying the approximate location of people or assets. RF-only technologies like Wi-Fi and BLE are often lower in cost and easily implemented, but they are not the best choice for precise locating.
When precise location is critical, it is advised to implement technologies that are bound by the physical walls in a space. These are often referred to as certainty-based technologies like second generation infrared which constrains location communication to a defined area. These technologies are best suited for clinical care spaces where frequent, precise location is needed to automate clinical workflows. Often a combination of location technologies is the best economical decision for a healthcare system – allowing them to balance cost and complexity with the needs of each business unit and application.
When evaluating solution providers, organizations should consider the results of their previous deployments, their range of products and services, their ability to integrate with other healthcare applications, the likelihood they will be able to meet future needs, and their installation and support processes. A good end-to-end solution provider will take a consultative approach to implementation and post-installation project management to help ensure the deployment’s long-term success. Now let’s consider some of the use cases that benefit the patient experience.
Protecting Patient Health with Infection Control
Real-time location solutions proved to be a valuable resource during the COVID-19 pandemic. Location enabled asset management solutions ensured critical equipment was cleaned and ready for use, while contact tracing was simplified with the use of historical location data identifying the interactions, time, and duration of a COVID-19 positive patient’s encounters with others. When the release of vaccines requiring specific storage conditions arrived onsite, hospitals with electronic temperature monitoring were able to automate alerts triggered by temperature changes, mitigating unnecessary loss – but the benefits of RTLS began far before the recent health crisis.
For example, electronic hand hygiene monitoring is critical for improving compliance with hand hygiene protocols. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), on any given day, roughly 1 in 31 hospital patients has at least once healthcare-associated infection (HAI). Not only do HAIs put patients at risk, they also result in preventable medical costs upwards of $28.4 billion each year. Hands are a known vector for communicable disease, making hand hygiene an important consideration for infection control. In an independent study conducted by three healthcare systems using CenTrak’s hand hygiene solutions, compliance rates improved by 45%. By employing RTLS to efficiently monitor hand-hygiene events and help identify strategies to improve compliance, facilities can effectively reduce HAIs to improve patient care.
Reducing Patient Anxiety in Healthcare Settings
Visiting a healthcare facility, especially a large hospital campus, can be overwhelming for patients and visitors who are already under considerable stress. Some RTLS platforms can use BLE to transform the visitor’s personal cell phone into a turn-by-turn navigational guide for the facility.
By receiving directions or inputting preferences in real-time, users can take control of their healthcare experience, from receiving accurate directions and parking at the closest lot to avoiding quarantined sections and areas under construction to taking the most efficient, desirable route to their destination. In turn, digital wayfinding solutions ease the anxiety that comes with navigating an unfamiliar environment and reduce missed or late appointments, allowing staff to remain on schedule and dedicate the maximum amount of time to patient interaction.
All too often we see safety and security concerns in healthcare, especially related to violence directed at staff. Pairing location data from an RTLS solution with advanced staff badges allow staff to discretely call for help from any location. This can further be enhanced by adding door and elevator controllers that are integrated with access control systems to automatically limit an attacker’s movement during an emergency event.
Wander management and infant protection solutions can prevent and alert staff when a patient attempts to enter or is moved to an unauthorized area. Again, door and elevator controllers can prevent them from being able to access restricted areas, helping to keep these vulnerable patients safe. This added layer of security provides patients and their families with peace of mind and the knowledge that their loved ones are safe.
Improving Operations with Actionable Analytics
Integrated RTLS systems generate essential data and automate analytics to provide a holistic view of a healthcare facilities daily operations. Automated data collection is useful for many of daily operations, such as determining a facility’s staffing and equipment needs, documenting and reporting compliance metrics, detecting real-time risks, identifying inefficiencies, and making better, more informed decisions. Each of these examples can have an indirect but significant impact on a patient’s experience in a healthcare facility.
While manual data collection and reporting has traditionally accomplished many of these tasks, it is time-consuming and prone to human error and often provides only a small sample of the data available. Automated data collection and reporting gives employees more time to focus on tasks that promote safe care and patient satisfaction. Additionally, it allows for more advanced analytics, which arm administrators and department heads with actionable insights and enables them to identify improvements that can reduce costs and improve safety and quality.
For example, most facilities benefit from decreasing the time between a patient’s arrival and their contact with a care provider. By implementing RTLS with automated reporting, administrators can monitor each step of a given workflow to pinpoint operational bottlenecks, allowing them to design and implement workflow changes and improve procedure. Theoretically workflow management would be possible with manual observation – but in practice, it requires a significant investment in labor and a strategy for addressing natural bias.
Further, it would also be costly to continue data collection on an ongoing basis or even repeat the manual collection process routinely to measure the impact of any changes. On the other hand, repeating the automated process with KPIs (key performance indicators), allows facility leaders to document their ROI (return on investment), analyze the impact of incremental changes, and help build a system-wide culture of accountability and continuous improvement.
At a time when patient experience is vital to each healthcare facility’s success, investing in RTLS applications can improve a system’s reputation as an industry leader while keeping patient safety and satisfaction at the forefront of facility management and leadership decisions.
Christopher Thompson, MSN, RN, is the director of patient experience at CenTrak, the market leader in locating, sensing, and security solutions for the healthcare industry and a visionary in the Gartner Magic Quadrant for indoor location services. CenTrak has helped more than 2,000 healthcare organizations around the world build a safer, more efficient enterprise. For more information, visit www.centrak.com.